Monday, January 19, 2015

Walk A Mile in My Shoes

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, KJV).

Empathy, the ability to walk in another person’s shoes, is usually preceded by compassion. Empathy allows you the ability to really imagine how another in that situation must be feeling; even if you haven’t experienced the exact same events as the person who is suffering.

Many have never experienced the challenges of living with a mental illness. However the Biblical account of Jesus’ encounter with the Gadarene demoniac in the Book of Mark, Chapter 5, gives a very good glimpse of the life experiences still experienced even today by those who are experiencing untreated or undertreated mental illness:

(1). Mark 5:3- “Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains” (KJV).

Estrangement from Family and Community
There are those who never had a good support system to assist them during the times when their mental illnesses are so pronounced. Others lost their primary supports due to death or, usually, parents or grandparents, became too medically fragile to care for them. There are many with mental illnesses however, who due to their illnesses and/or behaviors, simply taxed their loved ones so heavily over a period of time that they found themselves severed from family, friends and other meaningful supports.
Imagine how different your life would be if you lost all contact with those you loved such as parents, siblings, spouses and even your own children due to a medical condition that distorted your mood, your thoughts and your feelings. Imagine the emotional disconnect that you would feel if your loved ones didn’t recognize your need for treatment but were harsh, critical and told you that you were not welcomed around them because you are just “weak” and “need to suck it up.”

Can you imagine living in a community in which your illness skews your reality so far apart from the realities of everyone else around you causing you to be publicly ridiculed or the butt of cruel jokes? Worst yet, because of your illness, you are the target of violence. Imagine how confusing it would be to find yourself being assaulted and robbed by those who, only the day before your check day, had been your “friends.” Maybe you are a female who is sexually assaulted within the community or by staff in hospitals, group homes, etc., but no one believes you because of your mental status.

(2). Mark 5:4- “Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked in pieces: neither could any man tame him” (KJV).

Repeated Failed Interventions
There are many experiencing mental illness who don’t receive the help they need to effectively manage their symptoms due to lack of insurance, limited insurance, the stigma of mental illness and family members who utilize inappropriate interventions. There are many others who have sought help only to be labeled as “non-compliant” when they have resisted involuntary hospitalizations or medications that caused severe side effects or affected them in a physical manner.

Even if your thinking is distorted, how trusting would you remain if someone took you somewhere under the guise of getting you out of the cold only to have several strong men grab you, put you in restraints and strap you to a bed for hours or isolate you in a small room after giving you some type of injection with little or no explanation? Chances are these experiences probably would not have to occur too many times before the average individual would become combative and resistant about being restrained.

(3). Mark 5:5- “And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones” (KJV).

It probably goes without saying that individuals experiencing severe depression, delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations and other symptoms of mental illness often experience extreme psychological and emotional distress. Imagine being unable to rely on your own mind, thoughts and feelings to relay accurate information regarding your environment and those around you. That can be very terrifying as well as frustrating. Yet, contrary to popular misconceptions, most of those who are mentally ill are more likely to harm themselves than to harm others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 30,000 deaths occur annually in the United States due to suicide and close to 1 million Americans receive treatment for suicidal thoughts, behaviors or attempts on a yearly basis.

While 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with a mental illness, many of us will never experience these exact experiences. Nevertheless, because we each share the human experience with our own challenges to overcome, we are all very aware of the importance of giving and receiving the comfort and compassion of others.

Can it be a long process when dealing with someone who is mentally ill? Yes. Is it possible that you will become frustrated when you see little or no progress while working with someone experiencing a mental illness? Again, yes. However, before you throw in the towel or come to the conclusion that these individuals are unworthy or beyond your compassion, take a moment, exhale, regroup and take a moment to imagine what it is like and also what it really means to walk a mile in that individual’s shoes.

© 2015 Linda Haywood. All rights reserved worldwide.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bring 'Em Back

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept” (John 11:33-35, KJV).

Imagine this Biblical scene. Jesus had delayed His coming during Lazarus’ illness and when He arrived in Bethany. Jesus was met by an angry and grieving Martha who basically told Him that He was too late; and if He had been there rather than delaying in His arrival her brother, Lazarus, would not have died. Lazarus had been dead for four days, one day too late for revival by conventional Jewish thought but not too late for God’s resurrection power. Amazingly, even though Jesus knew what He was about to do, He was still moved by the grief of those around Him and wept with compassion at the tomb of Lazarus.

Compassion, a key part of spirituality, is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Therefore, we can say that compassion is usually followed by an action. Acting on our feelings of compassion however, may be challenging when we feel inadequate, fearful or when we lack a true understanding of the experiences of those seeking our assistance.  For many, including Christians, never are these feelings of inadequacy and fearfulness more pronounced then when dealing with those who are mentally ill. And, unfortunately, stigma and misinformation has only added to our lack of understanding and inability to show the compassion of Christ.

For instance, what type of individual comes to your mind when you hear of mental illness? Do you immediately envision someone laughing and talking to him/herself? Do you think of someone who is a violent “ticking time bomb” and a potential threat to everyone else around him or her? Or do you envision someone who is a parent, a brother or sister, an esteemed member of the community or even you? 

Historically, fear, stigma and a lack of understanding has kept those experiencing mental illness hidden and basically dead to society as a whole. Needlessly, thousands suffer alone in silence each year afraid of the impact that may accompany their disclosure. Those experiencing mental illness, as well as mental health advocates who support the mentally ill, are dismayed over and over again as the only time that the issue of mental illness and mental health reform is put on display and scrutiny is when one or two out of the masses of those labelled with a mental illness commits some heinous act that the media broadcasts over and over again. This only reinforces the perception that most of those who are mentally ill are also dangerous.

Today, however, there is good news. Contrary to all of the misinformation circulating about, the compassion of Christ is still able to restore, even now. Our compassionate responses can take what appears to be a dead situation and pull those seeking assistance out of their tombs of depression, hopelessness and despair. We can reconnect our brothers and sisters, even though they have been severed, due to their illnesses. They can be brought back to life despite having been interrupted by untreated or undertreated mental illness.

© 2015 Linda A. Haywood. All rights reserved worldwide.